When you’re starting a job hunt, you want to capture the attention of the hiring managers, but it can be difficult to decide what parts of your background to highlight. By using principles of good storytelling, you can stand out as a job candidate.
The first thing we often ask someone we meet is “What do you do?” People answer with our occupation. We’re a lawyer, we say, and sometimes we dress it up with more specifics. We’re a property rights lawyer in the firm of X, Y and Z.
Yawn. What you do isn’t nearly as interesting as why and how you do it.
In my past work life as a community newspaper reporter, I was assigned stories about things like a couple approaching their 50th wedding anniversary or a church about to have a picnic. I liked to dig into small town life for the juicy bits, and those were always in the answers to the “why” and “how” questions
“How do you stay married for 50 years?” I asked the couple with the anniversary. “Ice cream every night,” the wife said. I probed their answer a bit. They didn’t mean they had it after dinner, for dessert. They had it for dinner itself. Why? You need to enjoy pleasurable things together as a couple, and you also need to break the rules together sometimes. This was their point-of-view, their unique approach that brands them as marriage experts.
It was a great answer that made for great copy because it was surprising and lighthearted. They easily could have gotten pedantic, lectured on faith or loyalty, which is all fine and good, but don’t all wedding anniversary toasts start with that? Instead they delighted me.
These are elements you can add to promoting yourself in your career.
So you’re a programmer. Why? If the answer isn’t that interesting, if it’s because your dad said you had to do it and you wimped out and followed orders, that’s fine, but then dig deeper. Why do you continue working as a programmer? How do you motivate yourself to keep up with all the changes in the field? How do you do your job? What makes you unique?
You mumble something about the fact that you love saving the day sometimes, about how you feel like a superhero secretly averting disaster. Now we’re getting somewhere. Well, you kept the network safe during the latest hacker attack, but that was just doing your job.
Don’t fall into the trap of dismissing your story. The hacker battle is a story, a good one, and you can tell it in an interview, cover letter, or a resume bullet point. But if you don’t know the value of that story, if you’ve let it get lost in the clutter that our career history easily can become, if you get trapped in the “what,” then you don’t know your own value, and you can get lost in the shuffle. Reconnect with the why and the how, and you’ll bring your job hunt and career alive.